Saturday, January 26, 2013

Antique Books and Why I Love Them

I am in love with old books.

Whenever I go to a good used book shop it's basically impossible to get me to leave until I have found and purchased at least two books published before 1920 (though sometimes I make exceptions to that date, though, for example this book was published in 1927 and it's BEAUTIFUL. Look at that cover!)

This is my entire collection as of now, and I expect it will get bigger over time: 

There's something beautiful about old books. It's not just the stories in them that make them wonderful, although the stories are great too. It's the fact that these books have traveled, been given as gifts, done things you've never done, been places you've never been. They've survived wars and revolutions and somehow, despite everything, persevered until they found their way into my hands. There's a real poetry in that, I think. 

One of the things I love best about them is the notes from the books' previous owners that you find in the front of some of them. I have a math book from 1877 that, according to the writing in the front, was printed in Baltimore, made its way to San Francisco in 1889 and in 1969 was in Spain--and when I found it, it was in a bookstore in Iowa City! There's a story behind that, I know it, and I always end up wondering what that story is. 

I have to say my favorite book in my possession, though, is a huge book of Grimm's Fairy Tales from 1909. It's illustrated by Arthur Rackham(look him up), and there's a note in the front that says (as far as I can read the handwriting)

         Daisy with all her love.
Xmas 1911. 

This book was given to me by a very old and dear friend who took care of me as a baby. It was printed in London and she and her entire family was originally from England, and so I can be fairly certain this book made its way through the thick of both World Wars. It's huge, with cut pages and thick paper and writing in gold on the front:

It's an absolute treasure. In addition to the cover, it's got brilliant illustrations inside, both color and black and white. I've spent more than one afternoon just sitting down and reading through it (fairly gingerly.)

I want to know all about the books I own, where they came from and all the places they've been--but at the same time, I relish their mystery. It's delightful, wondering how these books have made it from then to now. You can imagine all sorts of pasts for them, mad adventures and epic romances. You wonder if this has ever been anyone's favorite book, if they've packed it away and moved to an entirely new place with it, if, perhaps, it's passed through the hands of some famous character in history. I want to keep collecting and collecting. There are specific books I want to find a first edition of (that's not obscenely expensive) and specific bookstores in strange places that I want to go back to in order to find more treasures. And maybe I will someday!

Old books are beautiful, and they hold secrets and adventure, both in the words and the physical pages themselves. If you ever want to make me really happy, get me a nice old book. I will love you forever.  

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Can You Teach Writing?

So, I know this is an question that has been covered by a ton of people, but I just thought I'd add my own two cents' worth.

Can you teach writing? Yes and no.

Writing--good writing--comes from practice. It doesn't come from some magical mythical invisible fountain of awesome inside your head. Writing is really a learned skill, in my opinion. Even getting good plot ideas is learned, I think. As you look at the world around you and learn to see the beauty and the terribleness in it with an eye for story and character, you learn how to get inspiration, as strange as that sounds. You just really have to devote yourself to it. Let your inhibitions go, don't be afraid, and write like your life depends on it.

However, that being said, I don't think I'd be the writer I am today if I hadn't attended the California State Summer School for the Arts (studying creative writing) and the Iowa Young Writers' studio. In both those places, I attended workshops and class-type-things that were mostly discussion-based and interactive. By having my peers critique my work and critiquing the work of others, I learned how to view and dissect and truly understand my writing in a way I hadn't before. As I discussed in my other post, What it Means to Read as a Writer, going to these programs has taught me things I don't think I could have effectively learned on my own.

But, when you really get down to it, I'm not sure my experiences at CSSSA and the IYWS weren't exactly teaching so much as supplementing my practice. If I just went to those programs and I didn't practice, I would be a pretty crappy writer. You're not going to become a great athlete or musician by learning about it intensively for two weeks a year, or even six months of a year. Without exploring something on your own, you're going to miss out on a large portion of the learning process. Writing is the same as any sport or musical instrument in that way.

Basically, I believe that writing can't be taught, in the most literal sense of the word. No one can tell you exactly how to do it. There's no set of rules you can memorize, it just doesn't work that way. At the same time, critiquing work and having yours critiqued in turn are essential parts of the writing learning experience. This doesn't mean that you have to go to school for it--you can, if you want, I think it can be very useful--but it does mean that, if at all possible, you should seek out critique groups or summer programs or whatever you might want to do. That sort of thing has been absolutely invaluable to me.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Loving Both the Sciences and the Humanities

So, if you're reading this, you most likely think of me as a writer. A humanities sort of person. Which makes sense, given that my first novel is coming out in 2014. But here's something you might not expect: I've done lots of work in biology too.

Over the past two years or so, I've worked in three different biology labs: one at the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits, one at UCLA, and one at the John Wayne Cancer Institute. They've all been very unique experiences, and they've all been wonderful. I've gone hunting for herbivore teeth in the Page Museum archives, done a full research project about wolf skulls at UCLA, and sorted gene expression data at the John Wayne Cancer institute. And I enjoyed every minute of it.

There's this strange myth, though, I think, that you're only supposed to like one side of the academic spectrum. Sciences or Humanities, pick one. Whenever I've talked to someone from my lab about my writing or one of my writing friends about my science exploits, I've sort of felt as if they weren't taking the subject they were involved with very seriously. "She obviously loves her lab work, and so the writing must just be a hobby," or "She writes constantly, so the science must be an extracurricular activity that she does just for fun," I could feel them thinking.

In reality, I love both. I really do. And though it does seem like I'm heading along more of an English trajectory than a Biology one, I still love my science, and want to continue studying it in college. I'm planning on doing some sort of double major or major-minor thing in Bio and English. I want to continue doing research in college, and I also want to continue writing novels (obviously.) I aim to be a full-time writer, I think--but I would be equally happy working as a research scientist.

I know that not everyone is like me. I know a lot of people do, in fact, gravitate towards either the sciences or the humanities. Still, it always feels a little awkward and unpleasant when one of my interests or the other is sees as less important to me. I want to shout and say, "Hey! Guess what! It's not impossible that I could love both equally!"

Anyway, I love both bio and writing. I've always thought that it's kind of cool to know lots of stuff about lots of stuff that has nothing to do with each other. I know about vertebrate morphology and prose poetry, story structure and gene expression. How cool is that? I've nearly always got something to talk about, whether I'm speaking with a scientist or a journalist or someone in between who wants to know more about either of my interests.

So, here's my message to all the english or history lovers wondering if they should try to get a summer internship in a lab, or the physics or biology lovers wondering if they should try their hand at poetry, painting, or costume design--GO FOR IT. It's so much fun. I'm a firm believer that you should try everything; if it doesn't work, or you end up not liking it, then that's that. You tried. Oh well. But you'll never know if you don't try, will you?

Don't be intimidated by this strange idea that you can only love either the sciences or humanities, but not both. Learning is always good, whatever it is. Explore. Strike out. Have an adventure! Take a class, get a job, read books. Have fun doing whatever the hell it is that you want to do.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

4 Rules of Writing Violence

I've spent the last year, approximately, writing serial-killery violence for my novel, "Dear Killer." As I went along, I learned a few things about writing the morbid and vicious; here they are. 

1. Only write violence when you need to. 
Don't overindulge. When you can leave something to the imagination, then leave it to the imagination. If you start adding too much blood, broken bones, bruises, exc., then it's all going to blend together in the reader's mind. Also, it's going to get really gross. Each act of violence that you describe should have a point. It might be to introduce the violent nature of a particular character, perhaps, or to shock the reader into paying close attention to what comes next. You don't need to describe every gruesome bit. The reader will get the point. Just choose the most important pieces of blood and gore, and describe those thoroughly.

2. Use action words. 
No, I don't mean "verbs." "Action words," as I think of them, are a subset of verbs. They are verbs that denote intense action--for example, "crushed," "sprinted," "slammed," or "shattered." Verbs that are not action words, on the other hand, are "broke," "cried," or "kicked." Action words, the kind that you would use in extremely violent scenes, are the kind of words that make you cringe when you think of them happening to you. You don't want the word "shattered" having anything to do with you, though you might be okay with "kicked." Basically, though you might not want to do this in every scene, always go for the extreme when you write violence. Make sure it's remembered. 

3. Focus on details. 
This is a general writing tip, really, but focus on the little things. It is far better to "zoom in" on one or two specific details than to explain the whole scene. It gives the reader points to sort of anchor themselves with. Describe the color of the sky and the look in the murdered person's eyes, but nothing else, for example. The reader doesn't need to know what absolutely everything looks like, because they won't remember it all. If you only describe one or two things that are very indicative of the moment, it will be easier to picture; the reader will sort of realize that those things are "important" and should be paid attention to because there isn't anything else to pay attention to. It makes the scene more memorable. And, of course, to repeat what I said before, your violence should definitely be remembered. 

4. Know what you're talking about. 
This one is going to make you a bit uncomfortable and make your search history a bit questionable. But, basically, you should understand what you're writing about. This may seem self-explanatory, but, really, you should google things far beyond what you want or think you need to google. Like, what sound happens when you stab someone. Or what it feels like to have your ribs broken, in detail. Ick, I know. Gross. You're not going to want to google that. But you should. Strive for obsessive levels of accuracy; it just feels more real that way. 

Of course, in the end, these rules are really only guidelines. And rules are meant to be broken, anyway. Good luck with the gore! 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Musings on Plot Bunnies

If you like to write, you've probably heard the term "plot bunny."

For the benefit of those who don't know the term, a plot bunny, simply put, is an idea for a story that sticks persistently in your mind until you write it.

Sometimes the plot bunnies are great, sometimes they're not-so-great. Sometimes they're the genius-inventive-stunning kind, and sometimes they're the "Let's take 'The Great Gatsby' and put more zombies, vampires and werewolves in it" kind. Either way, until you get it out of your system, plot bunnies are stubborn. They're practically indestructible.

Whether or not they're stupid, I LOVE plot bunnies.

See, I have a lot of ideas. Some of them are pretty good. Some of them aren't. But even if it's a really good idea, unless it's an honest-to-god plot bunny, I won't write it well. I sometimes write stories from ideas that aren't plot bunnies, but the writing is, more often than not, sketchy, weak, forced, uninventive, and generally awful. Maybe that's just the part of me that's childish/inexperienced shining through, or maybe it's something all writers struggle with (I honestly don't know!)

For me, it doesn't matter how cool or stunning the idea may be unless it's a true plot bunny. One of my problems, though, is that it's sometimes hard to tell whether or not an idea is going to be persistent. When I first think of an idea, it occupies my mind nearly completely; but I'm never sure if it's really going to stick around or flash and fade like a pretty but short-lived firework. So, it's become a habit to give each idea an approximately week-long "waiting period" before I actually begin to plot it out and write it. If the idea sticks with me for that long, then I can almost always write the story with some success.

I probably get about a hundred full-fledged ideas a year, most of them during the hiatuses between writing books, when I'm trying to figure out what to write next. Only one or two stick with me long enough to get written. There's a big junk pile of ideas I've written down and discarded. Some of them still sound cool to me... but there's no spark with them, no idea of where I want the story to go. And that's a shame! I would love to write all these crazy worlds, people and adventures that I've dreamed up at one time or another. But I simply can't. It usually ends up that I have something to another to write at all times, so I don't feel like my writing productivity is being stunted in any way by this unfortunate phenomenon, but it is really very very frustrating.

Peter De Vries, a novelist best known for his satiric wit, once said this: "I write when I'm inspired, and I see to it that I'm inspired at nine O'clock every morning." I envy him his flexible inspiration. I would love to be able to write anything well at any time. I would love to be able to do something other than stare at my list of discarded ideas and sigh wistfully, thinking of all the things that might have been.

But then again, maybe all that will come with time. I sure hope so.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Short Story: "Standard"

This short story came from a writing exercise I was given while at the Iowa Young Writer's Studio. We had to go into a library, choose two vastly different books, and use a sentence from each as the first sentence and last sentence, respectively. My first sentence was from a fantasy book about ogres (it's been changed slightly to avoid plagiarism, but the content is essentially the same) and my last sentence is from a how-to-knit book. Enjoy!

The sorcerers had given him the ability to speak Standard just as well as Maren.
            It had cost him money, of course—I remembered it, though I was small then. Lots of money. So much money that my parents had sat with him in the kitchen for hours the night before he went to the city to see the sorcerers. They wanted to make sure that he was sure, they said, as the candles burned low, smelling of roses, because, yes, he was a grown man, but he was still their child, and he was about to spend more than a year’s earnings on something they couldn’t see the worth of. I listened with my ear pressed against the wood of the door, absently, tensely, rolling a ball of green yarn around in my hands. Their voices weren’t clear, but I could understand them well enough.
            He reassured them, soft and slow, again and again, until they fell silent.
            When he came out I was still by the door; I felt no need to hide from him. I had never felt the need. I was so small, compared to him, and he had wide shoulders and gentle sky-blue eyes, and he would always protect me. That was my brother, when I imagined him, just shoulders and eyes, and that was what mattered.
            He found me outside the door, wide-eyed and silent, curled up within the white tent of my nightgown.
            “Lila.” He sighed, faintly chastising, leaning down to pick me up. I should be in my bed, asleep, I knew, but I didn’t want to go. I wrapped my seven-year-old arms around his neck, holding fast to the yarn, and smelled the scent of his hair.
            “You’re going to the city?”
            “Yes,” he murmured, “To see the sorcerers.”  
            “To learn Standard?”
            “Yes, like Maren.” He replied.
            My mind filled with images of Maren. Maren, the wanderer, who came sometimes to our dusty town upon a hill, packs filled with spices or silk, smelling of the road and of faraway places, his dark beard tinged with grey and the cups and pans tied to his back making sounds like bells as he walked down the road with a cloud of dust in his wake.
            “You want to wander?” I asked. It was the reasonable assumption. Everyone nearby spoke our small old, ancestral tongue—you only needed to speak Standard if you wanted to go far, past the Lion River and to the city and across the flat lands, to the sea and beyond.
            “I don’t want to spend my whole life as a candlemaker’s son.”
            I understood, almost, at seven. I’d dreamed too, sometimes, of going far away, to spice-filled lands. But unlike my brother, I supposed, I preferred other things to wandering. The rugs of Aunt Vinita, for example, who sat on the corner and wove strands of color into ecstatic beauty.
            The next morning my brother went away. He didn’t return for three years.
            In those months, those lonely months, I spent time with my Aunt Vinita. She was a beautiful woman, I supposed, or at least had been once.  She had wide dark eyes that always made her look as if she was trapped in mild disbelief and clouds of black hair, graying now, that surrounded her face and made her skin seem paler than it was. I sat on her corner beneath her weaving, watching as the rugs came into being, each one a story of color.
            “These are art, Lila,” She would say, “These are life. Each rug is a piece of life. Each rug takes the colors of a day and weaves them into something to keep.”
            I believed her as she purred to me in her soft voice. As the children passed through the street, children older than me and younger, leaping, playing blind tag and Ahnesi, I was content to sit in the shade of her loom.
I hadn’t realized before how much my brother permeated my life—how, every morning before he left, I would wake to the sound of him strolling past the vats, the scent of his soap, lavender, wafting through the air—I saw in the rugs a piece of him. I wondered where he wandered. In a yellow and green rug I saw him sitting by a desert oasis. In a purple and orange one I saw him in a foreign market. In a black and blue rug I saw him under a wide midnight sky. And slowly Aunt Vinita began to teach me the yarn, the strings, the weaving. It was my exploration. But her hands were always upon mine, and I never did it on my own, because she didn’t trust me with the strings, not yet. I didn’t mind. I didn’t quite trust myself either.
I was still a child, I realized, as I walked sometimes through the streets of town, seeing the men and women in brown and grey sitting on steps and in the shade of canvas tents. They talked about secret things there, about love and parenthood, and I could never get too close to them. They fell silent when I did, or changed the subject. It was a strange revelation. My brother had never truly treated me as a child, and it was strange to realize that I was.
            And when my brother did return, he had changed—oh, he had changed! It had only been three years, but he was a thousand worlds bigger than he had been before, and he, like Maren, carried pans that sounded like bells upon his wide back, and he, like Maren, smelled of something beyond.
            When he rose over the hill, Grace the butcher’s daughter was the first to see him, but I was nearby, and she called me, and I was the second. I ran to him and he swept me up in his arms and I breathed in his new smell. He didn’t smell like lavender anymore.
            That night we sat far above the town, on the cliff face that rose up over it and gave it shadow in the afternoon.
            “What’s it like, beyond?” I asked. He was quiet for a moment.
            “Greater than I ever could have imagined.” He replied.
            “The markets are beautiful?”
            “More than beautiful.”
            “The faraway jungles are tall?”
            “Taller than anything.”
            “And is it lonely?”
            “Yes, yes it is. But it’s the best kind of lonely, Lila. The beautiful kind of lonely. The lonely where you can come home again and see your little sister three years older even though somehow you imagined she would stay just the same.”
            I laughed. “I’ve missed you.” I said. “but I suppose I’ve been the good kind of lonely too.”
            “I’m leaving again in the morning.” He said.
            I didn’t respond to this. We sat in silence for a while longer. Then—
            “Speak to me in Standard,” I said.
            And he did. He spoke to me in Standard. Far into the night. I fell asleep with my head in his lap, his gentle eyes looking down at me, and I learned to love the sound of a language I didn’t understand.
            In the morning he left. There was a beautiful sunrise as he rode away—all salmon pinks and tangerine oranges and sunflower yellows and as he retreated into the light he became nothing more than a dark black silhouette against the sun. I drank in the image of his retreating shadow and vowed never to forget it.
            The next day I weaved for the first time on my own.
            The image of my vanishing brother was bright in my mind.
A rug invited me to put those colors together. 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Letting Go of My Manuscript (aka my baby)

My book just entered copyediting and I am feeling something akin to separation anxiety.

It's strange, seeing how far this book has come. When I started writing it, I didn't think it would go anywhere. I sort of thought of it as an experiment, or an exercise, perhaps. When I was about a third of the way through writing it, I actually gave up writing it completely for about three months before picking it up again. "I'm not feeling it," I thought, "And besides, who would want to read a book about a teen serial killer?"

When I did finish it, it was about half the length--maybe even less than half the length--than it is now. It was positively shrimpy. My (absolutely fabulous) agent pushed me to make it longer (because it obviously had to be) and despite the fact that I agonized about what else I could POSSIBLY add, in the end, I came up with things to put into it--and guess what? It turned into a much stronger book because of that.

So then my agent sent the book out, and it got picked up fairly quickly; when I got the call from my agent, I was actually at work at a summer internship-type thing, and I couldn't pick up the phone. When I was in the car on the way home, I called my agent back--and nearly had a joy-induced panic attack right on the spot.


I mean, that's what I had always been working towards, but dreaming of something and having it actually happen are two totally different things. You think you're ready for it, that you'll play it cool if and when the call comes, and then it turns out that you really can't play it cool because you're too busy hyperventilating and panicking and walking in circles in your driveway as your little sister takes a video of your freakout and laughs at you.

After that things started happening pretty quickly; I talked on the phone with my editor (the lovely Katherine Tegen) for the first time, I started editing, and in the end I added about twenty thousand words, give or take, to the manuscript. For about three months, I ate, breathed, and dreamed about that novel. In the middle, I got to go to New York and meet with both my editor and my agent for the first time--and things suddenly started to feel very real.

And now my novel is going into copyediting, which means that my itty bitty serial killer book is almost all grown up. Sure, the manuscript isn't completely nailed down yet; but in all likelihood, I won't be writing new scenes, creating new dialogue, or enhancing characterization any longer.

And that's scary.

I've spent a long time with this book. I've seen it grow from an odd, morbid plot-bunny into a full-blown YA psychological thriller. I know its characters like the back of my hand, their personalities and hopes and dreams and insecurities and shortcomings. Now that it is drifting into the land of things-mostly-beyond-Katherine's-control, I feel as if I'm seeing a child move away from home or something.  (never mind that I'm still a child still living at home.)

Now I find myself asking: "What do I do now?" How do I occupy my hours? I no longer have any conversations to dream up, or characters to write into existence. What do I do, what do I do?

The answer, of course, is to write something new. Find another bunch of words to become irrationally emotionally attached to. It's what I do best, after all.

So: Onward!

What It Means To Read as a Writer

For the last four years, approximately, I've been regaled with this advice: "Whenever you read, read as a writer."

The only problem is this: until this past summer, I had ABSOLUTELY no clue what that meant.

I think "read as a writer" is one of those unfortunate pieces of advice that most people, when they give it to you, think you should just understand automatically. Now, I'm not blaming them for anything. I got along pretty well without knowing how to "read as a writer" for quite a while. But when I was finally properly taught what that meant (at the Iowa Young Writers' Studio, which is a crazy amazing program, for anyone who's interested in applying) it was an epiphany.

Basically, I think reading as a writer means asking these three questions:

What parts of this book do you like? 
Why do you like those parts? 
How can you take the things you like and make them your own? 

Take, for example, "The Book Thief" by Marcus Zusak.

I love that book with all of my heart. So let's explore it, reading as a writer.

1. What parts of this book do you like?
There are so many things I love, but, most of all, I love the prose style and the fact that it's narrated by Death. I particularly love the beginning of the book (though the whole thing, of course, is wonderful).

2. Why do you like those parts? 
To answer this question, let's take a look at the aforementioned beginning of the book.

"First the colors.
          Then the humans. 
          That's usually how I see things. 
          Or at least, how I try. 

You are going to die. 

I am in all truthfulness attempting to be cheerful about this whole topic, though most people find themselves hindered in believing me, no matter my protestations. Please, trust me. I most definitely can be cheerful. I can be amiable. Agreeable. Affable. And that's only the A's. Just don't ask me to be nice. Nice has nothing to do with me. 

Does this worry you?
I urge you--don't be afraid. 
I'm nothing if not fair.

--Of course, an introduction.
          A beginning. 
          Where are my manners?"

That's some good stuff right there, eh? As I mentioned before, I love the prose style, and the fact that it's narrated by Death. 

So why do I like the prose style? I think I like it because it's matter-of-fact, boldly and originally formatted, and it leaves you asking questions. What does the narrator mean when he says he sees the colors first? Why can he only try to see the colors first? Excetera. It feels as if someone is speaking to you, naturally and normally; and there are a bunch of snappy little sentences (Nice has nothing to do with me.) paired with longer, more formal ones (I am in all truthfulness...), which lends a lovely rhythm to the whole thing. The little starred statements (HERE IS A SMALL FACT, exc) are bold and unusual and interesting and signal to the reader that this book is going to be something different than what they have read before. 

Why do I like the fact that the novel is narrated by Death? Well, of course, it's a clever and original little conceit. But why is it so clever, precisely? It's clever because this book takes something we all know and think about--Death--and gives it a face, so to speak. It lends an eerie familiarity to the whole thing and gives you a unique and strange perspective on the events in the book. 

Which brings us to number 3. 

3. How can you take the things you like and make them your own?

There's no neat rule for this step, and it's by far the hardest. It goes on a case-by-case basis. Because I like the really short sentences paired with long sentences, I might explore that rhythm in my own writing. Because I like the little mysteries at the beginning, I might attempt to set up questions, as Zusak does, in the first lines of my story. I might be more creative with my formatting, like Zusak does with his starred statements. For example I might

                                      do this
                                                                    because I can. 

I might also choose an unusual narrator, as Zusak does, to give a different and unusual perspective on the story; maybe the narrator could be a complete bystander, someone who doesn't affect the story at all, or someone who forgets everything three minutes after it happens (a la "Memento," which is, incidentally, a very good movie.) Get creative!

I wouldn't, of course, make my story narrated by Death and use starred statements; that's plain old copying. The essence of step 3 is not copying exactly what you like from the book; it's taking the bare bones of the things you liked and being original enough with your use of them so that they are definitely not the same things, while still keeping intact the reasons why you liked them to begin with. 

Tricky. But it becomes easier with practice. 

In short, "reading as a writer" consists of identifying and being able to put into words what you like about a particular story so you can tweak and twist those things for your own use. It's not replicating them exactly; it's adding them to your mental arsenal of "things you like" for future reference. You may like snappy dialogue, or eerie atmospheric description, or long descriptions of how a character feels. That part is up to you. 

Casual reading (which is good also) means just knowing that you like what you're reading. But reading as a writer means realizing exactly what you like and why.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

On Being a Teenage Author

Whenever I tell anyone that my first novel is being published, the reaction I get most often is this: "Oh my God, you wrote a novel?"

I always wonder if other first-time published authors get the same reaction, or whether I just get it because I'm a teenager. Whenever anyone says that to me it always feels a bit strange--because this novel isn't my first. Yes, I've written a novel. In fact, I've written eight. 

I started really writing when I was twelve, and I've never stopped. At first it was just a hobby, something I did when I was bored. My writing was veeeeeery sucky for a while (naturally--there's a learning curve for everything, right?) but as I got older and more experienced, things, slowly, slowly began to get better. I learned the arts of plot and dialogue, the nuances of character, the balancing act of description. I got older, my writing progressed into something that truly defines who I am as a person. Nowadays, I am nearly always writing or mentally plotting out what I am going to write next. 

But still, strangely, even when I told people I'm fairly close to that my book was being published, I got that reaction--"You wrote a novel?" 

Being a teenage author is a strange thing. I think it's because I'm so busy doing other things--school, college apps, sports, etc.--that it seems, from the outside, like writing isn't a terribly prominent part of my life. In truth, I often stay up until obscene hours in the night so I can do my bit of writing for the day in the midst of everything else. Whenever I space out and miss what my friends are saying, I'm usually thinking about my novel's next plot point. And yet, despite the fact that my writing is so important to me, personally, it rarely comes up in day-to-day conversation, and some people I've known for years don't know that this whole novel-publishing shebang is happening. It's a strangely quiet process. 

And then there's the strangeness involved in actually going through the publishing industry. You get the feeling that you're in limbo, a little bit. Not quite a child, not quite an adult. You communicate with your agent and your editor on your own and are responsible for your own work life. And yet, your contracts have all these odd little fiddly bits added on because you're underage, and whatever you sign, your parents have to sign too. You're never quite sure whether you should bring your parents with you to a meeting or not, and your editor has kids around your age. 

I've never been quite sure whether my young age is a good thing or a bad thing. Of course there are always naysayers, those who say that teens' writing sucks, as a rule. But on the other hand, my young age is something "interesting" about me that most other writers don't have. For better or worse, though, my age is something integral to my writing career--it's something I can never quite escape or forget. 

But, strangely enough, here's what I think is the secret to my success:
I've never actually believed that my age has anything at all to do with my writing. 

I've worked my butt off for the past five years, honing my craft. I write constantly. I've attended the California State Summer School for the Arts and the Iowa Young Writer's Studio, completed NaNoWriMo in the middle of the school year, and given up sleep in exchange for novels. What does it matter if I'm seventeen or fifty-seven? 

Sure, I don't have the life experiences writers older than me do, and I haven't had quite as much time to polish my writing as many other writers. Still, in the end, I don't think that the casual reader could pick up my writing and immediately figure out that it was written by someone under the age of eighteen. Don't get me wrong, I'm still learning, and I am absolutely sure my writing is far from perfect. But at the same time, I've always had a stupid amount of self-confidence, (which is not always a good thing, by the way--it gets me into some really awkward situations) and that age-blind self-confidence has led me to put my work out into the world where people can see it--and out there, awesomely enough, people have liked it so far. 

So here's my message for those of you who are reading this, teenagers or not: Ok, sometimes writing by teenagers isn't the greatest. And sometimes it is. And sometimes writing by adults isn't the greatest. And sometimes it is. And maybe the age of the author isn't really the point at all.